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Saturday, January 12, 2013

What a wonderful Jewish world

By Joseph Aaron

Joe Aaron, editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News
The following is the latest from Joe Aaron editor and publisher of Chicago Jewish News. He writes a weekly column. 

I am not always in agreement with him. Sometimes I am even poles apart from his perspective. But this week, for the most part - he is right on the money. His words follow.

You know things are going great for the Jewish people when even our former enemies, countries that have done us very, very wrong, are doing very, very right and nice by us.

There are several points I make repeatedly in my columns. One is how vital Jewish unity is and how lacking it is these days. Another is how much it is in Israel’s interest to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that the longer we wait, the less good the deal will be for us. And perhaps my favorite point, which is that we are living in a very blessed era for Jews.

Indeed, things have never been better for Jews, things are amazingly good for Jews. We are thriving in the world’s most important country, its only superpower, the United States. Jews all over the world are free and able to live as Jews. We have a Jewish state. A Jewish state that is powerful militarily, strong economically, breathtakingly creative. A Jewish state that has diplomatic and economic ties with every important country on earth. Anti-Semitism as a real factor in our everyday lives is no more. Governments around the world protect and support their Jewish communities.

Things today are very good for Jews and getting better every day. And yet, for reasons too psychologically complex for me to explore, Jews today are scared, feel threatened, feel vulnerable, feel the world is out to get us, doesn’t like or care about us, feel Israel is thisclose to being destroyed, feel another Holocaust is this close to taking place.

You gotta be nuts to look at the reality of Jewish life today and feel that way, but many Jews do, obsessing about trivialities like Jonathan Pollard and blowing them up into a worldwide far-reaching media-driven effort to destroy us.

That is so very sad, so very wasteful, us squandering the good times in which we live in order to focus on the delusions of bad times that grip our kishkes. We should be kvelling, but instead we are kvetching.

But even me, who firmly believes things have never been better for Jews, sometimes can’t believe just how good things are for Jews.

So good that even nations that have persecuted us, expelled us, murdered us, pogromed us, are today embracing us.

Consider the following.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently renewed her pledge to stand up for Jewish life in Germany and for Israel's right to self-defense.
Speaking at the annual assembly of the Central Council of Jews in Germany -- the first time a German chancellor had visited the assembly -- Merkel reiterated her longtime commitment to Israel's security, which she had stated again during the recent Gaza conflict. She said it was not only Israel's right but its duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks.
Merkel told the group that she wanted the Jewish community to know that it is supported and cherished.
The chancellor of Germany said that. Germany. As in the Holocaust.

And speaking of Germany, when a rogue judge ruled circumcision illegal, Jews the world over, as usual, went crazy, pointed to that as evidence of how bad things are for Jews, how under siege Jews are. Well, as usual, we panicked for no reason. Please know that the German parliament recently and overwhelmingly passed a law protecting the right of Jewish parents to choose a ritual circumcision for their sons.
And then there is Russia, former home of refuseniks and Siberian labor camps and generally horrible treatment of Jews.
Well, guess what just opened in Moscow? A Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, a sprawling, state-of-the-art complex underwritten by oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin, no less.

Putin extended his personal support to the massive project, even donating a month’s salary for its construction, which cost around $50 million. Organizers say it is the largest Jewish history museum in the world.

The president of Russia did that. Russia. As in pogroms.
And then there is Spain, the country which kicked all its Jews out in 1492.

Well, in 2013, a Spanish political party has asked the regional government of Andalucia to authorize and encourage holding Jewish weddings in Cordoba’s historic synagogue.
The request came in the state parliament of Andalucia in southern Spain. It is intended to encourage a greater influx of Jewish tourists into the city.

The spokesman of the party which introduced the idea, said “arrangements are not in place” to facilitate Jewish weddings in the synagogue. He wants fund to make that happen.
Built in 1315, the synagogue stands in the historic Jewish quarter of the city, once home to a substantial Jewish population before the expulsion of Jews from Spain five centuries ago.

Oh, and by the way, the Portuguese town of Trancoso, which once was heavily populated by Jews, invited the Israeli NGO Shavei Israel to run its new Jewish cultural center.
The Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, complete with synagogue, will be the first Jewish cultural and religious center of its kind in Portugal in more than 500 years. But it’s that Spain thing that is most amazing. Spain wanting to attract Jewish tourists. The same Spain that a little more than 500 years ago chose to either convert, kill or expel all its Jews. Spain, as in the Spanish Inquisition.

And then there is the Vatican, which for almost 2,000 years blamed Jews for the death of their lord, sanctioned persecution of Jews as a result, with the pope during World War II even aiding and abetting Hitler.

Well, just recently the Vatican rejected comments by the head of a breakaway traditionalist group calling Jews “enemies of the church” and reiterated that it was committed to dialogue with the Jewish world.

“It is impossible to speak of the Jews as enemies of the Church,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said. He said the Catholic Church “is deeply committed to dialogue with Jews” and stressed that the Vatican’s position on this was “clear and well-known.”

Lombardi called Bishop Bernard Fellay’s remarks “meaningless” and “unacceptable.” “It is impossible to speak of the Jews as enemies of the Church.” The spokesman for the Vatican said that. The Vatican. As in Jews killed Jesus.

And then there is Poland, where most of the construction camps were because the Nazis knew how sympathetic the Polish people were to their cause and how unsympathetic they were to the Jewish people.

Well, it was just announced that a synagogue with a Jewish museum will be part of a replicated Polish town being built in the city of Bilgoraj.

The complex in southeastern Poland will replicate a typical borderland town from the late 19th or early 20th century with old streets and houses. A synagogue, a Jewish market and the houses of the Jewish community, as well as a house with a museum about the life of Isaac Bashevis Singer, will be part of the replicated town. Singer spent several years in Bilgoraj. A city in Poland is doing that. Poland. As in the country that facilitated the murder of millions of Jews.

And then there is Sweden. No, unlike the other countries I’ve talked about, Sweden is not a country that murdered and persecuted Jews in the past. But what Sweden just did to remember someone from its past says much about the place of Jews in the world today and how much the world cares about Jews today.

A Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg was one of the few heroes during the Holocaust, was someone who did all he could to save Jews. Wallenberg, a neutral Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the German occupation in 1944, issued Swedish travel documents -- known as “Wallenberg passports” -- to at least 20,000 Jews and also set up more than 30 safe houses for Jews.

And because he saved Jews, just because he saved Jews, the country of Sweden just announced it will honor him with an annual memorial day.

An official holiday celebrated by an entire country for a man who saved Jewish lives.

And finally, there is Auschwitz.
More than a million Jews, several hundred thousand of them Jewish children, were gassed to death in Auschwitz. It was the most notorious, the most infamous, the most murderous of the death camps.

Well, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp memorial and museum attracted a record number of visitors in 2012.
There were 1.43 million visitors to the grounds of the former Nazi camp last year -- the most in the museum’s 65-year history.
People coming to show their respect, to mourn the victims, to remember what happened in that place, to commit that nothing like it happens again. Never again.

“It reflects the actual meaning of the history of the Shoah and the drama of concentration camps in the history of contemporary Europe,” said Dr. Piotr Cywinski, the museum’s director.
More than a million people coming to Auschwitz to reflect, to memorialize, to weep for the Jewish lives lost there, the more than a million Jewish lives lost there.

Look at what is going on today in Germany and Russia and Spain and the Vatican and Poland and Auschwitz, and you see how our former worst enemies are today treating us, what they are saying about us, what they are doing for us.

Seeing why this era is the most amazing, most blessed, most hospitable, most supportive for Jews the world has ever known.

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